Keen Lau, who died in a tragic drowning accident on May 19, will be memorialized with a new fitness park in Ambleside Park.
At the beginning of West Vancouver’s regular council meeting on Monday night, Mayor Mark Sager started proceedings with a moment of silence for Lau, and then announced that the fitness park will be built in Lau’s name in place of an under-utilized structure just east of the Peter Sullivan Skatepark.
Before the public meeting, the memorial was discussed behind closed doors. Speaking to the North Shore News, Sager said he had the idea to revitalize the area many years ago, and that Lau had supported the plan.
Sager first met Lau and his family 30 years ago, during his previous term as mayor. The family immigrated from Singapore in 1991 and moved to West Vancouver. Sager described Lau’s father as a “lovely gentleman” whom the mayor met after receiving a phone call about a concern in the community. Last year, Sager reconnected with Lau during the municipal election.
“A little bit too late in the election cycle, Keen came forward and said he’d like to run for council and I encouraged him very strongly to do that, because he’s obviously a wonderful person deeply dedicated to the community,” Sager said. “Since that time, we became really good friends. We skied together and cycled.”
The mayor likened the process of memorializing the fitness park to other dedications in the community. While the District of West Vancouver has no related policy, typically memorials undergo significant consideration.
Councillor Nora Gambioli said she became aware of the fitness park from a CTV News story, which was published on Sunday, the day before council met to discuss it.
While not formalized, she said that the undertaking for community memorials is usually “very lengthy” and typically involves a group approaching council before approval is given at an open meeting. “Perhaps it’s time we established a process.”
Gambioli mentioned local examples like Rutledge Field, named after former Olympian and field hockey advocate Ross Rutledge, and Fred Jopson Field to honour the long-time local resident and youth sports pioneer.
Lisa Park, Lau’s widow, said she and the rest of his family is grateful to council for creating the memorial. “That’s a great way to honour Keen’s legacy,” she said. Park was at Monday’s meeting, alongside Lau’s mother Chui Han and brother Lee Lau.
In life, Lau was an active person, and many of his contributions to the community reflected that. In addition to other charity work, he volunteered with the HSBC-sponsored First Nations Youth Rugby Clinic. He was also a board member with the BC Mountain Foundation and volunteered for trail maintenance with the BC Mountaineering Club.
When he immigrated to Canada, Lau was already a talented tennis player. But he was quickly drawn to activities endemic to the West Coast. Lau took up skiing as a youth, and immediately excelled – he later joined the alpine racing team at UBC, and later became an instructor. Both season’s pass holders at Whistler, Park said they would drive up every weekend in the wintertime.
Lau was also an avid cyclist. He was a member of Todd’s Cycling Club in Vancouver, and rode the Grand Fondo. “He cycled down the next day from Whistler to West Van,” Park said.
That’s why the fitness park is such a fitting memorial.
“Keen will watch me from heaven: ‘Hey, Lisa, get off your butt right now and go exercise,’” she laughed. “He always motivates and inspires people, he always tells friends … ‘You need to go out, health is so important, you need to exercise.’
“He was really promoting to exercise every day, to his friends, his family, to everyone,” she said.
Park said that $25,000 from a GoFundMe campaign will go towards funding the fitness park, along with $125,000 from Park Royal and $50,000 from Ledcor. Excess donations from the GoFundMe will go directly to the community, but details haven’t yet been sorted out, she said. There are no draft plans available for the park yet, but Sager said he hopes for the project to be complete by mid-summer.
A public service for Lau will be held on Saturday, June 10 at West Vancouver United Church.
Calls for more safety measures at Cypress Creek
At the end of Monday’s meeting, two speakers called for increased safety measures at Cypress Creek, where Lau and his dog Loki were swept away by the strong current.
Sandra Smith, Loki’s dog walker, said that she and Skye Barbic – owner of a Newfoundlander that died in the area – contacted council with a similar message two years ago. The district replied that no new measures would be added, Smith said.
“I don’t want anybody else, any dogs or humans, to go through what has happened to Keen’s family,” she said.
She called for more chain link fence in the area to stop people and dogs from going directly above the falls, as well as other preventative measures.
Next to speak was Barbic, who said that the incident involving her dog two years ago could have been much worse. “We nearly lost our dog walker that day,” she said. “It could have been my husband, it could have been me.”
While there are some warning signs around Cypress Creek Park, which is an off-leash area, Barbic argued that “dogs can’t read signs.”
Sager replied that council had asked staff to see what steps can be taken. When reached for comment, district staff didn’t provide any detail on if or what work is being done related to safety near the creek.
With prevalent urban-wildlife interface on the North Shore, there has to be a balance between allowing people to access natural areas while ensuring it’s not too dangerous, Coun. Gambioli said.
“As soon as we start building barriers and putting up signs, then we’re sort of saying that we’re also going to be responsible and held liable if it’s not maintained and kept up,” she said.